Understanding the Mind-Body Connection of Eating Disorders

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

The connection between our minds and our bodies is more powerful than we think and can impact our overall wellness. Our thoughts and beliefs can impact our bodies, and in turn, our bodies can affect our stress levels, sleep quality, and more.

For those of us with an eating disorder, this brain-body connection can be overwhelming, especially when trying to alter our physiques to fit the image of what our mind wants.

Audience Questions

Holly S. Peek, MD, MPH, leads a session on the impact of eating disorders on both mental and physical health, provides insights into better understanding the impact of emotions, and shares advice on how we can navigate a stressful world while staying true to ourselves.

  • How do eating disorders impact our physical and mental health?
  • Does the mental health impact of an eating disorder differ based on the person’s age/onset of the condition?
  • Do eating disorders present differently in those who identify as male and female?
  • Are there ways that we can be more self-aware of how our emotions are affecting our appetites and eating habits?
  • Do you find that body image issues and binge eating disorder are connected?
  • Do you find that there’s a correlation between the increase in social media usage and image altering and an onset in eating disorders or dysmorphic disorder conditions?
  • Can you share your perspective on food-tracking apps, like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt?
  • At what point does being cognizant of your food intake become disordered? What constitutes orthorexia?
  • How does someone battle back from low weight? What are the components of it beyond eating more? What kind of psychosocial treatments may be needed?
  • What are the differences between poor eating habits and a diagnosable eating disorder?
  • Has “loss of control” during the pandemic caused more adolescents to develop eating disorders?
  • What do you find is the strongest misconception about eating disorders in general? Does it result in stigma about the disorders?
  • Do you know anything about BIPOC diagnoses of eating disorders and if they’re disproportionately treated?
  • Can you share your perspective on one-day, three-day, or intermittent fasts?
  • As someone who works in neurogastroenterology, can you talk more about the relationship between what we eat and its impacts on our brain function?
  • Can you talk about the manifestation of anxiety in our appetites and how that can exacerbate eating disorders or fuel the onset of one?
  • Can you share further details about how eating disorders affect the brain? For example, are there any structural changes for men with orthorexia long term?
  • There’s a lot of backlash against the diet culture and instead focusing on body positivity. Do you see that as helpful in reducing the prevalence of eating disorders?
  • My daughter is 15 and does not have good eating habits. How do I get her to establish good eating habits when she is so picky and will not listen to anything I suggest?
  • What about fasting for religious reasons? Can you address whether this reason for fasting falls within your previous comments about fasting?
  • What are the short- and long-term physical effects of eating disorders? Can you speak to some of the medical complications?
  • I’m a school nurse, and we’ve seen an increase in parents’ concern about eating disorders in the students, namely, restricting calories while increasing exercise. The head of the school has asked me to do a health unit on eating disorders with the students, but I have concerns that this would exacerbate the problem. Would a better course of action be to address and support the parents?
  • How does someone self-recognize—or see in a friend or family member—the signs of an eating disorder? What are signs that might get accidentally overlooked by someone who doesn’t know to look for it?
  • Can you talk a little about the relationship—if any—between strict or specific diets, including Paleo, Keto, Whole30, and intermittent fasting, and disordered eating and/or eating disorders?
  • What does recovery look like beyond an inpatient or outpatient program? What happens if recovery isn’t linear or there’s a relapse?
  • I think I know someone who may have an eating disorder. How do I approach them about this? What do I do if they blow me off? How much should I try to pursue the conversation if they’re reluctant to talk about it?
  • Can you speak more to some of the external forces that tie into eating disorders, namely, peer pressures, the media’s idealization of what a “perfect body” is, and clothing sizes, including vanity sizing in stores?
  • As we learn more about the causes and treatments for mental health disorders, are you finding that there’s anything different or new about how we address eating disorders now?
  • As a psychiatrist, what do you find is the most common treatment myth?
  • Are there any parts of treatment that you find your patients being surprised/pleased that it’s part of the path to recovery?
  • Can you speak more to the role of families and social circles in treatment?
  • If someone is newly diagnosed with an eating disorder or starting treatment for the first time, what message of hope do you think might help them most?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.

About Dr. Holly Peek

Holly S. Peek, MD, MPH, is an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the assistant medical director for the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at McLean Hospital.

Dr. Peek is board certified in both adult and child and adolescent psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. She also has a private practice specializing in child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy and medication evaluation and management.

Learn more about Dr. Peek.

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Originally aired on February 25, 2021